Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Never Too Old to Learn Something New

Last weekend was the annual NCHE Homeschool Conference and Book Fair in Winston-Salem. I have attended every year since the year before I started homeschooling! Seeing all those homeschoolers in one place (and there were not nearly as many 18 years ago!) and hearing the speakers was one of the things that convinced Mark we should go ahead and "try it for a year". We no longer operate under that "one year at a time" mindset, but that's a different post.

Some years I have focused on listening to the speakers and soaking in their words and wisdom, even buying tapes/CDs of the workshops I missed. Other years I have needed to spend time studying curriculum at the Book Fair - like the year I stalked the Tapestry of Grace table for 3 days! There have been years that were all about relationships and spending time encouraging other homeschool moms, and others that were about gleaning info and support from the Leaders Track of speakers, so that I could be a more effective support group leader. This year was something different again.

Even after 17 years of homeschooling, there are still new things to learn, and I feel like this year zeroed in on the needs of one particular child. I had heard of Dianne Craft from friends with special needs kids, and had visited her website a few times. But I don't have a "special needs" kid - at least I didn't think I did. What I do have are 5 very bright and very unique kids, with individual strengths and weaknesses - which by the way is one of the reasons home education is both challenging and essential!

The title of one of Dianne's sessions jumped right out at me - "Smart Kids Who Hate to Write". That describes both my oldest son and youngest son! They don't just hate to write, but writing is hard - too hard. There seems to be a disconnect between brain and hand. They are smart, they have learned the mechanics, they have great ideas, but getting them on paper is a torturous ordeal! The oldest has learned to plow his way through and has graduated college and is now an Army officer. But we are still in the throes of middle school with the youngest, and producing a decent paragraph takes about all the energy he can muster.

Dianne's other workshops at Conference were titled "Identifying and Correcting Blocked Learning Gates", "Teaching the Right Brain Child", and "Biology of Behavior and Learning". Let me just say that the information shared at these workshops was lifechanging.

Dianne not only has a masters degree in Special Ed., but is also a certified Natural Health Professional, and she talked about the effects of diet and allergies on learning, and gave suggestions for changes and supplements that could help.
She has studied the brain and how it works, and talked about something called mixed dominance, where the brain has not established a right or left dominance.  Most of us are right-handed/right-eye-dominant, or left-handed/ left-eye-dominant, and do EVERYTHING with that side.  Well, J has always used both hands, but for different things. He writes with this left, cuts with his right, plays baseball (throws & bats) with his left but plays basketball ( dribbles & shoots ) with his right. I did the eye dominance test with him and he is right-eye-dominant.  You might think this is a benefit and that he uses both sides of his brain equally well, but it actually creates a barrier and makes some aspects of learning very hard.  Fortunately, there are exercises to help establish that midline in the brain and create those information pathways from short-term to long-term memory.

Her wealth of knowledge and experience was amazing, and she also has a heart for HELPING people, evident by the amount of time she spent talking to people individually at her booth in between her sessions!   She wasn't giving a sales pitch just to make money. Yes, she had some materials for sale. But she made a point that much of the information she shares is available for FREE on her website. 

I am a laid back homeschooler, and my philosophy for learning to read and write has included not pushing too hard and giving things time, especially for the boys. But there comes a point when time doesn't seem to be doing the trick.  The sheer effort involved seems disproportionate to the task.  Dianne talked about tasks like reading and writing taking way too much "battery power" for these kids - the effort drains them so much they have little energy left for other school work.  And I thought "THAT'S IT!!!"   It isn't laziness or stubbornness - there is something about the activity that is draining the battery way too much!

I actually cried when I thought about the possibility of removing that obstacle from my child's learning.  According to Dianne Craft, that is entirely possible, if I am willing to commit and put in the effort to learning what she has learned and executing it with my son.

I am game.  Let's go.

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